Leola Twiggs Served Her Community

Leola (Doll) Twiggs grave marker 05-26-2023

Memorial Day weekend is the time when I usually stroll through the area’s cemeteries looking for men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. (You’ll find some of those at the end of this post.)

My ramble through the New Lorimier Cemetery in Cape landed me at this intriguing grave stone in Section 4, Lot 195, Grave 4. I figured that there had to be a story behind the sassy-looking woman on Leola (Doll) Twiggs’ stone.

I had no idea what a remarkable woman is buried there.

The first stop was Find a Grave, which had her obituary embedded in the listing.

Born in Luxora, Arkansas

Leola (I hope she’ll forgive me for using her first name) was born August 31, 1937, in Luxora, Ark., to Johnny and Hattie Mae Mack. The tiny town is sandwiched between the Blues Highway (Hwy 61) and the Mississippi River.

It had a population of 1,178 in the 2010 census, and only 942 ten years later. The satellite photo is from Google Maps.

Moved to a segregated Cape at 3

John S. Cobb School 08-26-2020

She attended the all-Black John S. Cobb School until the city’s schools were desegregated in 1954, after Cobb School burned down.

She was one of 24 Black students to attend Central High School in the fall of 1954.  She was the only student of color in many of her classes, and felt separated even within the integrated school, a Missourian story by Callie Clark reported in 2004.

Worked the fields in the fall

She entered Central as a senior, but, because she joined her father and siblings working in the fields for several months in the fall, she was required to attend an extra semester and graduated in January 1956. (Note: this is a picture of a man and his daughter in Immokalee, FL, on their way to the fields, not Leola.)

“My expectation was teachers are teachers, and they treat children alike. I found out they didn’t,” Twiggs said.

In one class, she remembers watching her white classmates gather around the teacher’s desk, laughing and joking. When she approached to ask for help with an assignment, the teacher asked her to sit down.

“I started thinking, ‘They don’t want me here,'” Twiggs said. “When they’d ask me a question, I didn’t want to answer anymore. It didn’t seem quite worth it.”

She lived in a number of places, including Dayton, Ohio, before returning to Cape Girardeau in 1969.

She joined East Missouri Action Agency in 1969

She took a job with East Missouri Action Agency, where, over the years, she worked as a site manager, bus driver and teacher. (Note: this was a picture of a Girl Scout Head Start volunteer in 1967, not Leola.

Head Start, created in 1965, is considered the most successful, longest-running national school readiness program in the U.S., providing comprehensive education, health, nutrition and parent involvement services to low income children and their families.

In 2009, she was honored by the agency for 40 years of service.

Taught Sunday School and volunteered at Civic Center

She taught Sunday School at New Bethel Baptist Church, and before starting with Head Start, she volunteered her summers to work with children at the Cape Civic Center from 1965 to 1968. (Note: this was a Civic Center baking contest in 1967. Leola isn’t in it.)

She served her church in many roles over 60 years: Sunday School teacher, mission president, choir president, youth women’s group leader, and prayer meeting coordinator.

The Bridge – a community project

Second Baptist Church 428 S Frederick 09-03-2015

New Bethel Missionary Church – a predominantly Black church – and the largely White La Croix Methodist Church joined forces to launch a community outreach program in 2004.

In 2006, after the two congregations had been meeting in a vacant lot at the corner of Henderson and Jefferson, La Croix purchased the former Second Baptist Church at 428 S. Frederick so that a program called The Bridge could be open to the community.

A five-block processional along Jefferson Ave. preceded the building’s dedication. Leola was quoted in a  Missourian story by Jennifer Freeze as saying she hoped the march would send a message to the community.

Campaigned for safer Indian Park

After a young child dashed out into the street from Indian Park and was killed by a passing car, Leola, who lived three blocks from the park, had some suggestions for the city Parks and Recreation Advisory board to make the area safer and more pleasant.

  • Reduced speed limits on William and Lorimier in the areas of the park.
  • Signs warning motorists that children are playing nearby.
  • Parking restrictions on one side of the street during peak hours.
  • Improved or permanent bathroom facilities
  • Installation of a drinking fountain.

It’s been some time since I took a close look to see if any or all of her recommendations were accepted.

Links to information about Leola

I have confessed that I committed research in pulling this together. I learned in school that if you steal from one source, it’s called “plagiarism,” and you’ll get a failing grade; if you steal from a bunch of sources, it’s called “research,” and you’ll get an A.

Here are some of the sources I tapped.

Previous Memorial Day posts

Since this project started out as a Memorial Post and I got sidetracked, here are links to other stories I’ve done about veterans and memorials.

2 Replies to “Leola Twiggs Served Her Community”

  1. She sounds like she was a really good woman and will be remembered forever (including with your help).

    I drove through Luxora often in the mid 70s. I had a 6 month ‘pre’-apprentice job (sweeping, carrying pipe, etc.) with a pipe fitters union that was building a huge factory to make wiener skins for Oscar Meyers back then. The factory was south of Osceola, which I drove to from my apartment in Blytheville.

    That drive on, Highway 61, had cotton fields aplenty, and I saw many folks picking cotton. My memory is foggy, but it seems most were black. That entire area of Arkansas seemed very poor, and I’m sure the pay was meager. It had to be a really tough gig to pick that cotton and put it in their large shoulder bags in that hot, hot summer so very close to the Mississippi.

    Another memory from that time tells me how remarkable it was that she could emerge with such a sterling character.

    In my job at the factory, at one point, I helped an older gentleman keep track of all types and sizes of pipefitter inventory, from elbow joints to valves. He seemed like a pretty kind guy, I believe he was from that area originally.

    He lived in a travel trailer in a trailer park, as many others did who moved from construction site to construction site. He invited me over one day after work, which I accepted.

    After some polite conversation, he said he invited me there for a purpose, that he had something to show me. It seemed innocent enough.

    We proceeded to the back of the trailer and he swung open a double door to a display that had various tokens and pictures that stunned me: he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and he instantly went into selling me to become a member.

    While I don’t believe I was cruel about it, I immediately told him I wasn’t interested and quickly exited the trailer. We didn’t talk about it much thereafter, probably mostly due to my avoidance of the topic.

    While I knew enough to know KKK was abominable, I wasn’t a saint in those days, either. Yes, I could drop the ‘n’ word in a heartbeat.

    That said, many years later, I quit talking to my father for 2 years when he wouldn’t quit using the ‘n’ word. He finally changed, just as I had.

    Per the KKK, can you imagine what Leola and others around her had to put up with over the years? Sad, so sad.

    Thank you for bringing such a wonderful human to our attention!


    1. We haven’t come far enough. One of the stories I quoted had bigoted racist comments at the end of it. The topic was a panel discussion on race relations in Cape Girardeau.

      One yahoo wrote, “As a European American I would like to know when we will be able to have a white history month.”

      This was as recent as 2009.

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